Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dig Deeper

Christina Pikas has a post up about the danger of using only sources with recent coverage. That is, not digging far enough back in a literature search.
...an editorial from Nature Reviews Microbiology that says youngsters today aren’t getting the proper baseline literature because they’re relying on PubMed and Google Scholar. They cite the subject area of bacteriophage biology – developed well before the Medline era. Some researchers in this area have created their own bibliography of articles prior to PubMed, but they are concerned about losing access to the publications as they are moved out of the library to storage.
One solution is to make students aware of other databases and resources (your university library likely has access to plenty of them) and encourage them to use librarians as a resource. At our grad school, the first departmental seminar of the year is given by the library staff, though I think it tends not to be taken seriously. An even worse problem is an attitude that if it can't be accessed online - if you have to go the the library and find it on the shelves, or deal with interlibrary loans - then it isn't worth the trouble.

Christina points out a very real danger in ignoring older literature: The case of a Johns Hopkins researcher whose 'current only' search missed an association between the intervention and lung toxicity, leading to the death of a volunteer. This is an extreme case, but there is a real danger of missing important findings in your field or duplicating previous work. Think about the time and effort that could be saved by digging a little deeper!


gawp said...

Also, lots of stuff that was asserted but never followed up on because it was infeasible at the time. I'm sure there are rich veins of ignored results to be mined that can be more easily followed up now.